Monday, December 20, 2010

Packers' Grades vs. the Patriots

Without Aaron Rodgers, the prospects of going into Gillette Stadium to play the hottest team in the NFL and coming away with a win were slim at best.  But Matt Flynn acquitted himself admirably at quarterback as the Packers jumped out to an early lead.  Coach Mike McCarthy’s willingness to commit to the run game and control the clock put Flynn in the position to make plays through the air.  The Packers played inspired ball through much of the game; a sharp contrast to the flat game they had last week. The Packers dominated nearly every statistical category. Unfortunately, the Patriots were the better team in the fourth quarter as the in-game coaching decisions reared its ugly head.

When you see Brandon Jackson rushing for 99 yards and John Kuhn picking up first downs and touchdowns on the ground of off screen passes, it makes you wonder where the commitment to the running game has been all season.  The Packers ran a near-50/50 run/pass split, rushing the ball 38 times against a tough defense and kept the Pats’ early pass rush at bay for Flynn.  Give the offensive line, particularly Josh Sitton and Chad Clifton, for bouncing back this week.  The Packers couldn’t punch it in from the two-yard line, settling for a field goal on 4th-and-1 that spelled the difference in the game.

BJ Raji had a career day, notching a sack and blowing up several runs in the backfield.  But he wasn’t in on every play, and the Patriots made the Packers’ defense pay with backbreaking runs, including shoddy tackling all around.  Linebacker Eric Walden, the fourth-string OLB in for injured Frank Zombo was only in on running plays, and fell victim time and time again to misdirection plays by the Patriots.  The 33-yard dash by Green-Ellis the put the Pats ahead for good in the fourth quarter was the dagger for the Packers.

Once Matt Flynn got over his early panic in handling the Patriot pass rush, he passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, notching an impressive 100.3 efficiency rating in his first NFL start.  He was surprisingly accurate, threading the needle at times on some short passes and a nice touchdown to Greg Jennings.  His touch pass to James Jones for his first touchdown might have been aided by the defenders tackling each other, but it was beautiful nonetheless.  McCarthy kept going away from what was working, trying to get Flynn to pass longer, resulting in one pick-six and having his passes float away from receivers.  Despite a great game, he and the offensive line melted down in the game’s final minutes as time ticked away.

The Packers did a decent job keeping Wes Welker from doing too much damage by gluing Charles Woodson to him, and the pass rush got to Brady, notching three sacks and three hits (including a particularly satisfying sack by Desmond Bishop).  But in the end, Brady didn’t turn the ball over and did just enough to keep the Patriots in the game, converting two third-downs on their go-ahead fourth quarter drive.  Dropped interceptions by Charles Woodson and Eric Walden led directly to ten points for the Patriots.   

It looked to be a great start with a successful onside kick to begin the game, but the decision to have Mason Crosby pooching kickoffs backfired in embarrassing fashion when a burly lineman Dan Connolly picked up the ball and rumbled for a 71-yard return, setting up a late first-half touchdown.  On the play, Quinn Johnson blindly missed Connolly and blocked out a few of his own teammates from making a play.  Mason Crosby (2/2 on field goals) and Tim Masthay (2/4 punts inside the 20) each had decent days. 

1 comment:

Chris Richards said...

Another fair, level-headed analysis. Thanks for the thoughts, CD.